Joliet: Worsham hopes for season boost

WORSHAM HOPES FOR SEASON BOOST AT HISTORIC ROUTE 66 RACEWAY JOLIET, Ill. -- Del Worsham knows winning an NHRA POWERade Series event can take more than technical mastery. Sometimes the key to victory is as simple as an intangible chemistry that...


JOLIET, Ill. -- Del Worsham knows winning an NHRA POWERade Series event can take more than technical mastery. Sometimes the key to victory is as simple as an intangible chemistry that is more luck than science -- and fewer drivers have had more luck at Route 66 Raceway than Worsham.

Worsham, driver of a Checker Schuck's Kragen Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car, returns to a track that must be among his favorites after notching his third career win here last fall. The eighth annual CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals, June 9-12 at the fast quarter-mile dragstrip just south of Chicago, is the 10th of 23 events in the $50 million POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Last season's victory at Chicago, Worsham's fifth and last of 2004, came just one week after a trip to the winner's circle in Dallas. He later tied 13-time Funny Car world champion John Force for victories on the season, finished second in the point standings and was one of four drivers in his category to qualify for all of the year's events. He tallied career bests for both E.T. and speed in 2004.

To date in 2005, however, Worsham's best showing has been a semifinal appearance in Houston. He hopes to halt his five-race skid of losing in the first round at Route 66 Raceway, a track that has proven so kind to him.

"The track is unbelievable," said Worsham, who compares the Route 66 quarter-mile to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "It's second to none. The success there, it really kind of baffles me. The majority of the races we've won haven't had that much traction (on the track). For some reason, Chicago and our car and set-up seem to have adapted well during the last five years.

"A lot of the cars making the final rounds this year are not making as good of runs as we've had this year. I keep telling (the team) every week, 'hold your heads up.' We're just not making the perfect decisions yet. The cars are not running bad at all. I don't think we need to do anything desperate at this time. We're hoping this will be a turn-around for us."

Worsham and fellow Funny Car pilot Whit Bazemore have each rolled to three career victories at the track, more than any other active drivers. He will seek win No. 4 with his father, crew chief and team owner Chuck Worsham at the helm.

"If you go on previous experiences, previous luck, we're thinking maybe this will be the race we start turning things around and getting our cars to the top 10 again," Worsham said.

The track's surface is not the only thing that places Route 66 Raceway in Worsham's high favor. While fans can talk shop one-on-one with favorite drivers and see teams working on dragsters up close at every race, Chicago's stadium-style seating brings spectators even closer to the action.

Worsham remembers his own first encounter with the sport at Orange County Raceway, in Southern California. Like many current drivers, Worsham grew up around the sport.

"Really, I don't have many memories of not having a Funny Car in the garage, or being around a Funny Car," said Worsham, who brings his three-year-old twin daughters Katelyn and Madelyn to tracks around the country. "I always wanted to be a Funny Car driver."

Worsham now competes against the same drivers he watched as a kid -- like Force, who drove to a third consecutive win and his fourth of the season in Kansas. With the victory, Force held on to his lead in the point standings over teammate Robert Hight and Gary Scelzi, who were second and third respectively. Bazemore, fifth in the point standings after Topeka, is also a driver to watch at Route 66.

Doug Kalitta, who has two career wins at Route 66, sat atop the Top Fuel point standings over former leader and Chicago-area resident Tony Schumacher. Schumacher set the national NHRA record for speed at 336.15 mph en route to a win in Columbus, Ohio, his third victory of the season.

Drivers to watch in Pro Stock are two-time and defending world champion Greg Anderson, who raced to the winner's circle in Kansas for a third consecutive victory, and Warren Johnson, a six-time world champion who will retire from full-time driving after this season. Johnson held onto his points lead by only a 13-point margin after Anderson's recent win.

In Pro-Stock motorcycle, G.T. Tonglet topped the point standings ahead of Karen Stoffer and defending world champion Andrew Hines after the category's last race in Columbus, where Ryan Schnitz, of Decatur, Ind., notched his first career victory on his Muzzy Buell.


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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Doug Kalitta , Greg Anderson , Karen Stoffer , Ryan Schnitz , Andrew Hines , Robert Hight